How Ellis Island shepherded millions of immigrants into America

Dec 12, 2019 1384


Sixty-five years ago, on November 12, 1954, a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen became the last immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. Later that month, the ferry Ellis Island made its final stop at the island in New York Harbor and the immigration facility closed for good, ending its run as a gateway to the United States for generations of immigrants.

These days Ellis Island is a national symbol remembered in sepia tones, but while it was in active service the station reflected the country’s complicated relationship with immigration—one that evolved from casual openness to rigid restriction. “It was not a great welcoming place for immigrants, but it was not a place of horrors either,” says Vincent Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.


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